Experiencing the One-Game Playoff
Observations from a fan who hasn’t seen much playoff baseball.
Baseball can be a very depressing sport for most in the months of August and September. Teams start to fade over the length of a long season as hopes for the playoffs wane more and more with magic numbers becoming reality. September is played like glorified spring training games, shut downs prevent worsening injuries, and opportunities of a lifetime emerge for some.
This, my friend, is the life of a Mets, Mariners, Blue Jays, Cubs, Padres, Astros, and Royals fan. Wait, the Royals made the playoffs? They survived the one-game playoff to play the Angels in the first five game series of the playoffs? I haven’t seen the Mets make the playoffs since 2006, but I think I got a glimpse of what the atmosphere will be like when they finally do.
Kauffman Stadium was electric last night with a playoff atmosphere that made me wish my team would treat me to such an amazing game. The Royals did a great job adopting a fellow fan in misery so let me tell you a few observations I made in the Royals first playoff win since 1986.
1. The Pitching: James Shields and Jon Lester did not come out firing. “Big Game” James allowed a leadoff single to Coco Crisp before Brandon Moss launched a home run to give the A’s a 2–0 lead to start off the game. That lead would soon be cut in half after a Billy Butler single gave the Royals their first run of the game. They’d be unable to score another after a base running miscue (we’ll get more into that in a bit)
Lester was leaving balls over the middle of the plate early but settled down after the third inning, allowing only one base runner until the 8th. Lester was living up to his promise of playoff dominance with a solid performance with his offense drumming up seven runs.
Shields on the other hand struggled with his control and couldn’t keep his pitches down in the strike zone. He labored through his first couple of innings and was up to 88 pitches when he was finally pulled in the 6th inning with two runners on.
2. Tempo: The Royals were making a conscious attempt of trying to disrupt Lester’s timing all night. They’d step out of the box and ask for time in between pitches, even stopping Lester’s motion altogether. A’s catcher Geovony Soto had a few words with the umpire after one such time, but Lester seemed unfazed by the tactics.
In the first inning the Royals had runners on 1st and 3rd with two outs. Alex Gordon, the team’s best player, was up at bat with a chance to tie the game at two. Ned Yost decided to send Billy Butler to try and get him caught in a pickle long enough for Hosmer to score from 3rd. The idiocy of this move speaks for itself when its explained that Butler may be the slowest player in baseball while Hosmer is a first basemen. The aggressiveness of the Royals on the base paths was impressive but Yost’s decision to take the bat out of the hands of Gordon to attempt a low percentage play is befuddling.
3. Bunting: Apparently bunting is all the rage in the playoffs, and I have to admit that I hate every second of it. It’s been proven over and over again that sacrificing an out to move a runner over actually lowers your chance of scoring, and is only the right move in a select amount of situations. The Royals bunted four different times in yesterday’s game and cited speed as the reason they were utilizing the archaic baseball methodology.
The worst of those offense’s came in the bottom of the 9th with Norichika Aoki at the plate, Jared Dyson at 2nd base, and one out. Dyson is one of the fastest runners in all of baseball and Aoki has hit over .400 in his last 44 at bats, putting the Royals in a good position to tie the score at 7. Instead, Yost decided to have Dyson steal 3rd base even though he was already in scoring position with one of the hottest hitters on the team at the plate. The plan worked and the Royals were able to capitalize on Aoki’s fly ball, but the risk seemed unnecessary.
4. The Hook: This wasn’t a great game for either manager in this department, but Yost caught a ton of negative attention for his move when he took Shields out of the game in the sixth inning after he walked Josh Donaldson to put runners on first and second. Shields had only thrown 88 pitches but it was an acceptable move considering Moss had previously hit a home run off of Shields earlier in the game and the Royals bullpen is loaded with Wade Davis, Greg Holland, Kelvin Herrera, and Brandon Finnegan.
Yost didn’t bring in one of his relievers, though. He opted to bring in flamethrower Yordano Ventura after pitching just two days beforehand. The move was puzzling because Ventura had never come out of the bullpen before, was not a lefty pitcher, and was inheriting runners on base. The Royals had plenty of options to choose from, but opted to use the starting pitcher. Ventura did own lefties all season, but that didn’t excuse the decision by Yost.
Melvin’s decisions weren’t as egregious but he left Lester in the game too long when he could have utilized his bullpen and decided not to bring in Sean Doolittle in the 8th inning to stomp out the Royals chances of cutting the A’s lead.
5. Weird Stats:
· Brandon Moss’s home run off of Ventura measured at 105.7 MPH off his bat.
· The A’s are 1–12 in series-clinching playoff games in the Billy Beane era
· Jon Lester had not thrown over to first base in his 219 2/3 innings pitching for the A’s and Red Sox.
6. Announcers: I think Ernie Johnson does a good job with his work on NBA on TNT, but I found his performance in this game to be absolutely dreadful. He was not tuned into the game and just didn’t seem well equipped to handle the big moments of a one-game playoff. Listen to his call of Moss’s home run in the sixth inning.
And Hosmer’s triple in the 12th inning.
It seemed like he had trouble reading how far the ball was going and couldn’t put it into words. I try not to be too hard on broadcasters but I thought his performance was inexcusable and it truly made the game a poor viewing experience. I would not have been happy as a Royals fan having him call the winning run of this game.
It’s a shame that the A’s weren’t able to capitalize on getting farther this postseason after shelling out some serious assets to acquire Jeff Samardija and Jason Hammel, and later acquiring Jon Lester for this exact reason. Let the Royals enjoy their fun, though. I know I will when the time comes.